The DNC's attempt to marginalize Carly Fiorina
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Before Carly Fiorina burst onto the national stage with a debate performance for the ages, I warned that as we start to hear her name more often, "it will undoubtedly be followed by the echo of Democratic attacks on her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard." I was right. In what I imagine was a fit of panic over at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), they sent out an email attacking Fiorina for the HP-Compaq merger. DNC Chair and Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats push Biden to pick Haaland as next Interior secretary | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | Wasserman Schultz pitches climate plan in race to chair Appropriations Wasserman Schultz pitches climate plan in race to chair Appropriations MORE (Fla.) said on "Morning Joe," "What's impressive about a woman who nearly drove a Fortune 500 company into the ground? Who fired 30,000 people when she was CEO?"


The stomach-turning hypocrisy of these comments is breathtaking. This attempt to marginalize a woman who blazed so many trails, who climbed a rickety old ladder and still managed to pass the men who took the executive elevator is unconscionable.

Defining Fiorina's career by tossing a few out-of-context numbers like globs of mud is marginalizing a woman who wrote about a business meeting that "this was the first time it had ever occurred to me that my gender alone could deny me the presumption of competence."

Almost none of the other candidates have laid off thousands. Of course, they've mostly worked for the government, and protecting people's jobs is a lot easier when you can drag around an $18 trillion debt.

In her book, Tough Choices, Fiorina says that "women feel a special pressure to be pleasant and accommodating." Perhaps that is the origin of the expectation that when the tech bubble burst, she should have saved a drowning HP without getting her hands dirty.

Steve Jobs — who was also fired by a shortsighted board at a company called Apple — famously said, "When we laid some people off at Apple a year ago, or when I have to take people out of their jobs, it's harder for me now. Much harder. I do it because that's my job."

Business is complex and environments change. The merger with Compaq required cuts to be made, and though it was widely panned at the time, it has proven a visionary move.

Ben Rosen wrote in The Huffington Post in 2008:

But of all the megadeals in the last 10 years that have engendered opprobrium, few have rivaled in negative views the combination of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer. Announced the week before 9/11, the HP-Compaq merger was met with almost universal skepticism and cynicism. And well after the merger was consummated in mid-2002, the doubts continued.

Today, the merger is nearly six years old. And, surprise, surprise — it's turned out to be a sensational combination, whether measured by market share, market leadership or increased shareholder value.

Mike Zapler, an editor at Politico, wrote in 2010:

Fiorina's reign at the helm of the iconic Silicon Valley firm has been vindicated by time. Her signature move while at HP — a $25 billion megamerger with Compaq that was panned by many observers at the time — has turned out to be a boon for the company, several experts now acknowledge. That acquisition and others undertaken by Fiorina's successor, Mark Hurd, have made Palo Alto [Calif.]-based HP the largest technology company in the world.

Here's the context from Tough Choices the DNC and its chair would rather flush than commend: The first ever female CEO of a Fortune 100 company started as an administrative assistant. At the time, she was in a world dominated by men. She had to meet with clients in a strip club. She was introduced to clients by her boss as "our token bimbo" and asked if she'd ever been cheerleader. She was taken on a wild goose chase for customers by a second level manager who was only interested in a sexual conquest. She was "horrified and humiliated" when that colleague lied to coworkers about the "great sex" they'd had when in actuality she had rejected him.

No male CEO in history faced more workplace obstacles in his path than Fiorina did.

That context deserves to be heard instead of marginalized, and the DNC and Wasserman Schultz should not be willing to throw it out in exchange for what they see as a pithy political attack.

I asked Doug McKenna, CEO of the Oceanside Institute, and an expert on executive stress, about the stress of being president. He said, "It's an almost impossible job and it takes either enlightenment or ignorance to manage the level of stress it imposes."

Fiorina has swallowed up fear and made more tough choices than most people will make their entire lives. Barrier after barrier stood in her way, but each one only made her more determined to succeed. Every day of her journey was grabbing success after success with one hand and fighting a deeply rooted culture of gender discrimination with the other. She was the first woman ever to see the view from the apex of the business world.

That success is the shadow of enlightenment. Marginalizing her is the shadow of ignorance.

This piece has been revised to accurately note the national debt.

Zipperer is assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College. Follow him on Twitter @eddiezipperer.